Lot 184
  • 184

Fernand Léger

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • Fernand Léger
  • Danseuse au tambourin
  • Signed with the initials F.L. (lower right)
  • Gouache, brush and ink and pencil on paper
  • 27 1/8 by 21 1/2 in.
  • 68.8 by 54.6 cm


Estate of the artist
Nadia Léger, Biot (acquired from the above)
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (acquired from the above)
Private Collection, Paris (acquired by 1993)
Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris
Triton Collection Foundation, Netherlands (acquired from the above in 2000 and sold: Christie's, Paris, March 25, 2015, lot 5)
Acquired at the above sale


Rotterdam, Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, From Monet to Picasso, Masterpieces on Paper 1860-1960 from the Triton Foundation Collection, 2002-03, n.n.
Rotterdam, Kunsthal, De collectie van de Triton Foundation, 2012-13, n.n.


Sjraar van Heugten, Avant-gardes, 1870 to the Present, the Collection of the Triton Foundation, Brussels, 2012, illustrated in color p. 423


Executed on cream wove paper which has been laid down. There is minor studio surface dirt in the background along the periphery. There is a very light crease to the center of the figure's torso. There is very light craquelure to the pigment in the lower right corner. There is minor foxing in the lower left corner. The pigments are extremely fresh and strong. The work is in very good condition.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Léger's striking Danseuse au tambourin exemplifies the aesthetic that would dominate the artist's production during the last year of his life, when musicians, dancers and acrobatic figures appeared animated in his works by swathes of bold color. Léger once explained this liberal approach to color as it applies to this series: "You are talking to someone and all of a sudden he becomes blue," he said. "As soon as that color fades another comes and he turns red or yellow. That kind of color, projected color, is free; it exists in space. I wanted to have the same thing in my canvases" (quoted in Simon Willmoth, "Léger in America" in Fernand Léger: The Late Years (exhibition catalogue), London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1987-88, p. 51).

Danseuse au tambourin relates directly to Léger's seminal series of works from the 1950s La Grande parade and this female figure appears in reverse in the left side of the monumental composition La Grande parade, état définitif, 1954, now in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (see fig. 1). Léger made over one hundred preparatory drawings for this important work representing the culmination of his career. The tambourine dancer appears in the majority of the drawings the artist created in preparation for the final version, which signals her importance to the composition. The stylized female figure is here juxtaposed with climbing acrobats, clowns, a horse and wheels. For Léger, performance and the circus were a life-long passion: "If I have drawn circus people, acrobats, clowns, jugglers, it is because I have taken an interest in their work for thirty years... A year elapsed between the first state of The Great Parade and its final state. This interval corresponds to a lengthy process of elaboration and synthesis. The slightest transformation was long pondered and worked up with the help of new drawings. A local alteration often involved changing the entire composition because it affected the balance of the whole" (ibid., p. 126).

Léger reveled in the pleasure of the circus from a young age, when traveling circus troupes came to his native Argentan. The subject matter continued to fascinate him when he moved to Paris, where he frequented the legendary Cirque Médrano in Montmartre. During his subsequent exile in New York during World War II, he was became a fan of the three-ring Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses. Indeed, at the end of the world war, he always returned to the subject as a form of celebration of peacetime leisure activities, an expression of simple pleasures and joie-de-vivre.

The present work reveals the artist's process and incorporates the solidly linear figures that had populated Léger's best work since the 1920s. Shape and form were primary concerns for the artist, but by the last years of his career he began to incorporate narrative into his highly geometric compositions. In this picture, the juxtaposition of the curvilinear form of the tambourine and the figure's hand against the linear structure of the moveable circus organ behind her reveals the medley of shapes and forms that have become part of the contemporary landscape. Léger was fascinated with social progress, and the campers, construction workers, and circus performers that he painted in the 1950s celebrate the activities of modern life.